Chapter 17

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Despite the casual conversation and the need to maybe just relax a little bit, Rean wandered outside shortly after the pie was gone. It was a nice day, and being locked up in the Tower for so long still gave him an appreciation of the outdoors... when it wasn't raining. It wasn't that he was necessarily worried about where Rakashi may have gone off to, but he still felt relieved when he found her in the stable.

She looked up at him curiously before continuing to inspect one of the horse's hooves. "Pie all gone then?"

He snorted at her entirely too accurate guess. "Fresh air and sunshine are still kind of new and exotic."

That got her to make an amused sound in turn, placing the horse's hoof back on the ground and moving to the next. "It's... a change. Almost hard to get used to."

Rean didn't think his opportunity was going to get any more clear than that. "So, it's... 'later'..."

"It's not that much later." She teased, knowing exactly where he was going with that. "I'm guessing it's a discussion that has to take place with everything around..." Which is was clear that Rakashi dreaded, just a little. She was either parting ways with these people or giving in to the whims of an army of five, herself included. Either way...

"Well, the pie is gone." The grin was softer, oddly reassuring.

"Apprentice idiot." She responded, getting a look that got her to grin as she walked around the horse. "You said so yourself."

Blinking, Rean had to admit, "I guess I did. I'm already pretty good at it, huh?"

"Astonishing." Rakashi answered, leaning against the stall door. "I suppose you are learning from the best."

"So..." He pushed, regardless of his better judgment (which had probably taken a hike quite a long time before then).

"You're better suited to living here, you know." She partly diverted. "Beautiful land, quiet, out of the way, tending to animals and crops. It's peaceful here."

"Then why don't you stay?" He knew the answer even before he asked the question, but that couldn't have stopped him.

And Rakashi knew all of that as well as he did, snorting quietly. "This will never be home."

"Isn't home where the heart is?" The desperation with which he was grasping was enough to make him cringe a bit.

"Poetic." She responded, but not with the sharp sarcasm expected. "But right now my 'heart' is in ending whatever the hell they were trying to do by bringing me here. And protecting those who are innocent."

Well, that was pretty impossible to argue with. Rean sighed. "Yeah, that's... the right thing to do."

Chuckling, she pointed out, "You don't sound too happy about that."

"I'm not." He admitted openly. "But... I still think we should all talk about this."

Returning his sigh with one of her own, she nodded. "Alright. I'll be right in, if you want to take it upon yourself to 'round up the troops.'"

He didn't. But he nodded anyway.

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Everyone at the table was stock still, all eyes on her as she entered. Not that Rakashi had expected anything less, she supposed, but this still made matters slightly... difficult. Not that anything would have made them any easier. Clearing her throat and sitting in the open chair, she held nothing back with the first blow. "So I'm off to kill some people."

Sarah's smile was a little bitter, but honest. "Never did mince words."

"And I don't intend to start now." Rakashi admitted. "It was suggested that I'd better talk about this, so... well, I'm talking."

"We're listening." Demi assured, then stated in a tone that could not be argued with, "As far as we're concerned, you're still the general. Your orders will still be followed."

Raising an eyebrow, she took a long look around the table. There was a slightly sinking feeling that came with finding the same conviction in everyone's eyes; even Andrew's. Eager to make up for his mistakes, it seemed. They were all eager to do things she didn't want to order them to do. "Isn't this more of a personal vendetta?" She finally asked, dark humor in her voice.

"Seems more widely-spread than that." Andrew responded. "Seeing as how the entire Tower fell..."

Innocents died, was what he was saying. Many of them, most likely--and more would continue to die afterward because of her, and the people who brought her there. It was a good point, one worth considering. "That isn't justification to put your own lives in danger." She pointed out, prodding for a decent response.

"Since when has war needed justification, General?" Demi didn't exactly offer what she was looking for, but the grin was solidly familiar.

Rakashi snorted. "If this is to be my war then it is to be run in a different direction." Exactly what that direction was might take a bit more planning than she'd really intended...

"This is... the right thing to do, though." Rean finally spoke up, albeit quietly.

He got a long, quiet look before a response came. "While I'm not here to discuss the dramatic implications of 'right' versus 'wrong', what makes you so sure?"

To his own surprise, the brunet shrugged and managed to maintain a sort of straight-backed certainty even knowing all eyes were suddenly on him. "I just do."

With a sound that signaled hopeless resignation and a decent amount of humor, Rakashi seemed to surrender somewhat. "Then I have to be sure that you can all manage to defend yourselves. That's my next priority."

"Weapons are no problem." Demi assured.

"Being able to use those weapons might be." Rakashi countered. "Self-defense and fighting without the aid of weapons would also be important."

Rean swallowed. He was probably the only one there who hadn't received any training in that regard, and it sounded... difficult. More than simply challenging. Still, when the general's eyes fell on him again as if awaiting his approval, he nodded. "Sounds fair."

"And when do we start the trials, master?" Sarah teased, easing what may have been a very tense moment if allowed to build.

"Still plenty of daylight left." Rakashi answered, standing. "I'll wait outside to take you all down one by one." With a little grin, she merely walked out the back door.

After a moment's silence, Demi commented, "I'm pretty sure she's serious."

"Oh, she is." Sarah agreed, chancing a glance over her shoulder and out the kitchen window. "I've seen this plenty of times before."

"So long as no one winds up with broken bones this time." Andrew sighed, standing himself. "That's what got her kicked out of the training grounds."

Rean just swallowed. Hard.

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"I volunteer to go first." Demi announced, stretching his arms behind his head as he approached.

It earned him a mildly amused look and a raised eyebrow from Rakashi. "You volunteer."

"Yes." He answered simply, bending down and stretching one leg, then the other.

"To go first." She stated as if to make sure.

"There's an echo out here..." He grinned, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he shook everything out.

This would be educational, if nothing else. "How fair do you want this fight, Captain?"

It didn't really sound like much of a question to him. "Whatever seems appropriate at the time." Demi decided, leaning down a bit and looking ready to rush her directly.

"Mm-hm." The general just looked ready, more than aware of the eyes on them from the kitchen window. The man's plan became fairly obvious with the way he shifted his weight, allowing her ample time to use his momentum against him and effortlessly flip him flat onto his back.

"Ow." He commented quietly, still winded from the impact.

"Again?" Rakashi's tone hid very little of her amusement.

"I'm better than this, you know." Demi assured her--even though he remained on the ground. "I'm just... tired."

"Of course." She went along with it, offering him a hand.

He did consider trying to return the favor by pulling her down, but that was before he realized what a grip she had on his wrist. Playing dirty would probably just get him hurt. "I'm actually more for weapons. Firearms, specifically."

"Maybe you should stick with those." She openly teased.

Demi caught Rean's snicker even at their distance from the house. "They're usually more effective than hand-to-hand."

"You won't always have a gun to use." Rakashi pointed out more gravely than she meant to.

He diverted the subject. "And you? What's your specialty?"

"Survival." She answered without thinking. "Anything and everything within reach becomes a weapon."

The captain swallowed just a little at the slight but noticeable glow to her eyes as she spoke. He couldn't help but think there might be something very wrong with his suggestion even as he made it. "Ah, well. Maybe you ought to be teaching us how to think like that, then."

Rakashi responded with a raised eyebrow. "Is that wise?"

Demi resisted the urge to glance at the window and see the look onanyone else's face. "Well, you've lasted this long, right? It seems smart."

The man's logic was legendary in being nonsensical, she'd known that. "It seems smart." She found herself repeating him again.

He responded first with a grin. "Got any better or faster options?" When she didn't respond for quite a long time, he was tempted to take a few steps back.

"You know..." she finally spoke up, "I avoided any sort of teaching situation like the plague for any number of reasons..."

"Well, we're better students than most." The captain made some attempt to assure--which got him a quiet look. "Not that food rewards should ever be out of the question."

Rakashi sighed, but there was a distinct upturn in the corners of her lips.

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At least the lesson moved indoors. And had a lot less to do with physical impact than it did with thinking and reasoning--or, maybe more simply and realistically, instinct.

"Everyone's aware of the basic weak points of the human body, right?" Rakashi started out easily, once again sitting at the kitchen table but with a very different purpose.

There were nods and murmurs of agreement all around, but no one was really ready for such a lesson. It was the combined nervousness of knowing they were probably about to find out too much, and realizing that they had the same things to worry about and defend themselves from.

"That's really all you have to know." She shrugged. "If you can get an object in hand, use it. The buckle of a belt can crack a skull or help you pull something out of its socket. More obviously, you can use it to choke someone, but that runs the risk of giving them enough time to get an adrenaline high before they've passed out and then you could wind up injured. Anything sharp you can stab with, go for the neck. Blunt, the eyes. With nothing at all, you can still punch, kick bite--if you can't go for the solar plexus or the gut, then go straight for the face. It's surprisingly easy to rip someone's bottom lip off with your teeth, just make sure you spit out the blood before you continue."

"Um." Rean interrupted quietly, looking and feeling ever so slightly ill after all of that.

Rakashi grinned slightly. "Or, leave it to me." She offered. "But I can't be everywhere at once. The mistake too many people make in defending themselves is not carrying it through to the end. Maybe that's fine if you're assured your attacker doesn't want you dead... but that's not true in this case. People aren't ready for sheer, determined attacks." She went on. "It's natural to assume the other person is of afraid of you as you are of them, unwilling to really hurt or kill. So don't be afraid. And be very willing to hurt, and more willing to kill."

The lesson was ridiculously short, but amazingly effective. And, frankly, scary as hell.

"Are you certain their orders will be to kill?" Andrew asked.

"No one here is exactly useful alive, are they?" Demi answered himself.

The general tapped the tabletop with a fingertip, twice. Nearly silently. "They may want those of you who were involved with the project alive... for a little while. Then you will be eliminated."

"You think they'd just kill you on the spot?" Sarah asked, voice hushed.

Rakashi gave a little shrug. "I'm no longer useful to them. Worse, every reason I was brought here is now turned in direct opposition to them. The military is ridiculously inadequate in the intelligence department, but they know better than to try to 'make use of me'."

It was a question that he really didn't want to ask, but it slipped from Rean's lips before he caught himself. Luckily, it was at least a little decently altered from his thoughts. "Would they try to catch one of us to lure you?"

There were no sarcastic quips, no grins or joking smirks from anyone around the table. The general herself considered the question carefully before answering. "Maybe. But that's why I need to know you will be looking out for yourselves. And each other. We may be working as a group, but I'll be doing the bulk of the duty."

"You don't have to, you know..." Demi insisted. Not that he wanted to go around killing people, but these guys were kind of asking for it. He wasn't entirely prepared for the gold glow in her eyes when they turned to him.

"It's mine." She responded, quiet but firm. "All of this is, but especially their lives. And the rest of you should be focusing on keeping blood off of your hands, besides."

The captain wanted to be able to call her on bullshit, he really did. But he couldn't. "Well, we're... here to do what you need us to do."

The glow increased for a fraction of a second before it faded again, leaving her eyes merely gold-flecked and mostly human. Rakashi nodded and wasted no time. "We need a decent vehicle."

"I think I can get one." Demi answered, surprised that he was even able to respond right away.

"Can you have it here by tomorrow morning?"

He blinked. "Tomorrow morning..? Well, sure, I mean... no problem. But..."

"Something's shifting." Was all Rakashi offered.

It was enough to get the captain's expression to go a bit grim, nodding. "I'll get going to town now."

Sarah stood with him. "I'll help you get the horse ready."

Rakashi waited for them to walk out the back door, counting a few seconds before she stood herself. "Just going to take a walk around the perimeter. Make sure all is silent."

And just like that, the room was quiet and mostly abandoned. Rean swallowed, once again uncertain of nearly everything--except the fact that he was still following, no matter what.

"Mother wolf." Andrew commented suddenly.

It was almost enough to get the younger man to start, not having expected the words. "Hm?"

"Mother wolf." He repeated, letting the term linger for a moment. "There's a reason the word 'bitch' exists as it does. There's nothing that can save you from pissing off a mother wolf... except maybe a bullet. Somehow I doubt any number of bullets are going to save anyone from Rakashi's teeth."

Rean didn't really want to find out how true that was.